Sunday, February 14, 2010

Red, White and Blues - A Film by Mike Figgis

The flourishing of American Blues music in the UK in the 1960s was so comprehensive and so surprising that it acquired a title: "The British Blues Boom". The fact that the Blues, especially in its electric form, in which the sounds of Africa processed via slavery, the Mississippi Delta and urban Chicago, and typified by players such as Muddy Waters, took root here in alien soil is well known. What is a less frequently told story is the process by which The Blues found its way into the British consciousness. Mike Figgis' film, "Red, White and Blues" traces the roots of this movement, from Jazz and Dance Bands, through skiffle and on into fully fledged Blues. Once Brits were playing blues, Figgis examines their extensive collaborations with African-American bluesmen, both in the USA and on the many package tours of American bluesmen which came to the UK in that era to satisfy the burgeoning demand here.

Figgis tells the story with great affection and through the voices of an array of stars associated with the time, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, John Mayall, Steve Winwood, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame, Chris Barber, The Beatles, The Stones, Jeff Beck and even Tom Jones and Lulu! Along with archive footage, and interviews Figgis gets a number of these musicians to indulge in some playing, singing and jamming through some classic blues numbers at Abbey Road. Of all the performances in the contemporary stuff, the revelation is Lulu singing (the 2nd best ever version of) Drowning in My Own Tears. On the importance of the British Blues movement to the history of Blues, BB King states that it kept the Blues alive, while Clapton recalls arriving in the USA full of excitement that they were going to meet Muddy Waters - only to discover that no-one there knew who he was talking about!

In the process of transmission of the Blues, according to Figgis' history, there was one song which had a hugely significant influence in bringing the format from exclusive jazz circles, and to the attention of the men who would popularise it. That song was Humphrey Littleton's Bad Penny Blues - credited with inspiring The Beatles Lady Madonna directly, and countless others songs less plagiaristically. It's a great DVD - one which blues aficionados will watch many times over.

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